Organizational Design Change.
DIY Onboarding: Your ChecklistThere are plenty of articles, including ours, on how organizations can improve employee onboarding. But how can you create a great transition for yourself?
How to manage your own transition to your new job
You’re ready to start that new job in a new organization. How can you set yourself up for success?
Reflect on the behaviors and habits in your old role.
What served you well? What mistakes did you make? In other words, what advice would you give yourself about starting a new job?
Find your info gaps.
Consider that you don’t know what you don’t know. Where might you have knowledge gaps?
Identify your early support network.
As you onboard, you’ll see org charts and meet people. Who are the people you hope to rely on? Choose people based on their role (new resources) or your initial connection (new friends or mentors).
Envision your best transition.
If, six months from now, you tell a friend, “I love my new job. I’m exactly where I need to be and I’m crushing it.” What does that look like? Who do you need to be to create that? What do you need to keep/stop/start doing? Which people, information, or resources do you need to get there?
During onboarding and your first days on the job, ask these questions. You might find answers baked into your onboarding experience. If not, ask!
How do I fit in?
You’ve just jumped aboard a moving train, metaphorically. So it’s important to understand where it’s going and why you’re on board. What is the goal of your department or team? How does success depend on the person in your role? What is your boss trying to achieve and how can you help? How do your efforts fit into the big picture of the organization’s vision?
What do others need from me?
The answer will depend on who the “other” is. If you’re onboarding as a group. Your peers are transitioning too. How can you help each other succeed? Those early connections can become important relationships you’ll rely on for a long time to come.
If you’re onboarding solo, what does your new team need from you? Are they behind, because your position was unfilled? Do they hope you’ll deliver a certain skill or function to help them succeed? Again, don’t just wonder or rely on observation. Ask!
What are the unwritten rules I need to know?
Organizational culture is the set of unspoken norms that guide behavior. They are the ways people make decisions in the absence of direction. The sooner you figure those out, the easier your life will be. You’ll figure out some of it instinctively; you’ll pick up on the energy, language, and little behaviors of people around you.
But it never hurts to ask. As you make friends and mentors, get them to share the likes and dislikes of the culture. How do people like to communicate? What really pisses people off? Is it better to be right or to be supportive? Decisive or thoughtful? Do people “fail fast” or work meticulously to the right product? Do you work and succeed as a team or as individuals? How do successful people in the organization balance work and life?
The more you learn and observe, the better you’ll understand how to smooth the way forward.
You might feel overwhelmed, but think of it as growing, because it is.
Let go of the past.
Transitions – even good ones – are hard. Acknowledge that and give yourself a little grace. At the same time, develop a new vision for yourself based on what’s around you.
Ask for feedback.
Seek input from peers, supervisors, and anyone else you trust. The faster you correct course, the happier you’ll be. And remember, no one expects the new person to be perfect! If you ask for input, you’ll scramble up the learning curve as quickly as possible and look good doing it.
However you recharge your batteries off work, do that, especially now.
Transitions are draining, and you need all the mental, emotional, and physical strength you can get.
And take care of yourself at work, too.
That means setting boundaries and maintaining the habits that make you happy. Is there an 8:00 am meeting you dread? Build in time to grab your favorite drink beforehand. Do all your new extraverted teammates love group lunches? If you need that alone time at lunch, keep it. Join the group once or twice a week. Do you hate the interruption of calls or instant messages? Reply on email. That will teach people to contact you in the way you prefer.
At the end of each day, think for a few minutes.
What worked well? What didn’t go well? What can you do to make tomorrow better? If you’re a journal person, level up by keeping a log of your lessons learned.
There’s no one way to onboard perfectly, but there is a right way for you. Figure out how to prepare, what to ask, and how to learn and you might love your new work home.
Layoffs 2023: Caring for the SurvivorsIf you’ve had to lay off employees, how does an organization rebuild trust, maintain morale, and ensure the productivity you need to survive? Here's our take.
How to Win Back Trust and Stay Engaged With the Remaining Employees
If you’ve had to lay off employees, it’s been a rough time. If the layoff was significant, you literally have a new organization to run. That’s a big transition. How do you start?.
How does an organization rebuild trust, maintain morale, foster engagement, and ensure the productivity you need to survive?
Here are some of your first steps.
- Don’t pretend. The layoffs happened and that impacts everyone. Employees and management will have to deal with survivor guilt, anxiety about the future, disengagement from leadership, and a host of other emotions.
What should the next days look like? As they say, the fastest way out is through. Standford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman recommends finding ways to get over emotional obstacles faster. “By front-loading emotions, you effectively discharge them.” The first step is acknowledging that something painful has happened. Then, find the right ways to provide time, space, and support.
- Over-engage. Tell them why. Share the problem facing the organization, the alternatives, and why the solution included layoffs. In many cases, an employee would reach the same conclusion.
Then, describe the experience for remaining employees. How will workflow and responsibilities change? Answer the question on each employee’s mind: “What about me?” Get tactical, specific, and local.
Finally, ask employees for help in planning the next phase. This activates a sense of control. There’s nothing like a layoff to make people feel powerless and afraid; fear doesn’t bring out the best. But including employees in plans that affect them gives them a sense of control. Control feels safe. It frees up people’s energy for what you want – doing their jobs and moving the organization forward.
- Help them connect. Many employees will feel the loss of these splintered relationships. For some, their friends just got fired. For employees who didn’t lose friends, their teams and support structures are broken. Help them create new connections within the new organization.
For example, you might start communities of interest or “book clubs” on development topics. These groups work across functions and allow people to discover connections in unlikely places. This promotes an informal cross-functional network that can pay off for the organization. And your efforts don’t have to be work-related. Simply creating spaces for social interaction can foster new friendships.
- Revive enthusiasm. What comes next? If you’ve done the work to dissipate negative emotions and engage, the next step is giving people a focus for their energy.
So be sure you have a clear vision and you share it. But, beyond that, make sure your message lands. What future is in store for the organization? How can everyone help get there? What’s your rallying cry? Create a shared purpose on which everyone can focus.
Layoffs are never a good thing, but they can ensure the survival of your organization. If you do it right, employees can emerge stronger and more engaged than before.
Process Design: 3 MythsProcess design has a lot of benefits, like efficiency, speed, and cost savings. But do you understand the implications? Consider these 3 process design myths before you get started.
Consider these pitfalls before you redesign or streamline.
When you hear your organization wants to simplify, focus on efficiency, or increase speed, the first thing that undoubtedly comes to mind is process…process…process.
But it’s not always that simple.
Here are three myths to consider before you dive into the deep end of the process pool.
Myth #1: Process negatively impacts culture.
Employees often think that adding processes will dampen their unique culture — especially in small businesses, nonprofits, or creative environments. People think a focus on efficiency will stifle creativity and turn them “corporate cogs” – the exact thing they likely ran from.
But, if done correctly, the opposite is true. When processes exist, employees can spend less time hunting for breadcrumbs of past processes or recreating processes. Efficient processes actually free up time to spend on employees’ areas of expertise and time to innovate and create.
Truth: Processes set you free so the culture can thrive.
Myth #2: Processes are locked in.
Sometimes, we get stuck on a hamster wheel and forget to pause, reflect, and fine-tune our processes. This happens for several reasons:
- This is how it’s always been done.
- There is great comfort in the familiar.
- We have too much on our plates and little time, especially time to spend on updating processes.
But in an era where innovation is king, organizations must constantly stretch, innovate, and grow. This means processes need to adapt and change to reflect the current and future states of the organization.
The amount of time spent on updating processes will easily be less than time spent fumbling through outdated processes.
The idea is to get to the finish line faster, cleaner, and more efficiently.
Set recurring dates to review and update processes. You’ll make molehills out of mountains, fostering an environment that celebrates agility and innovation.
Truth: Processes are never set in stone. Focus constantly on doing better.
Myth #3: A new process always wins.
Here’s the scenario: Work is a slog. There are too many activities all over the place and a general lack of clarity. A well-meaning group of employees attempts to fix it ALL with one 52-step process full of clicks and ticks, dips and dives, and giant U-turns.
While their intentions are admirable, the new process is exhausting and confusing; employees are now spending more time on administrative tasks and less on what matters.
So, what happened? There are a few possibilities:
- Key people were not at the table. Every team that owns part of the process, and everyone downstream of the process, should be involved. It’s also important to have people who think differently review the process before rolling it out. They might catch something; maybe the process doesn’t reflect the organization’s “customer first” value because it adds unnecessary tasks to the customer experience. Or, they might realize that the “52” in the 52-step process is a red flag – it will crush your people’s souls.
- The new process starts downstream, not at the source of the problem. If I need to drive my car to the store but the car is out of gas, painting the car red and filling the tires won’t get me to the store. You can try your best to shine your part of a broken system, but it will still be broken if you don’t start where the breakdown begins. If the problem is a lack of clarity and consistency from the top, start there.
- A formal process wasn’t the right solution. Could it instead be solved with a simple document that provides employees with “if this, then that” steps to guide them through their work? Or is this not really a process issue? Is it a training or engagement problem?
Truth: It’s best to look at the problem from all angles. Take a breath and ensure you’re addressing the right thing, at the right time, with the right people.
What Not To Do When You Have a New CEOLet’s say you’re a C-suite executive and a new CEO is on the way. You feel nervous—is your job in danger? In our opinion, yes, but here's how to manage the change.
Your Silence Speaks Volumes
Jim Citrin, of Spencer Stuart (an executive search firm) says this will be “a record year” for CEO turnover. So far, it seems to be true; according to the firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, CEO turnover rose 29%, year over year, in the first quarter of 2022 — the highest since the pandemic began.
Let’s say you’re a C-suite executive and a new CEO is on the way. You’re a strong performer, and the numbers support it. Still, you might feel really nervous—does this upcoming change affect your position within the company? Are you in danger? In our opinion, yes, you are.
You might be thinking of horror stories like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. After only weeks on the job, new CEO Mark Tritton fired all but one of his C-suite.
Bloodbaths like that are not the norm, but it is common for a new CEO to take a hard look at the team she inherits. She needs to prove her worth, quickly, or she’ll be the one on the way out. Studies show that this is especially true when CEOs come from outside the company, which can double involuntary departures.
So if you’re a top exec with a new CEO – or, for that matter, anyone with a new boss — what can you do to survive?
Harvard Business Review studied CEO changes of over 1000 companies and interviewed a number of new CEOs. Their accounts support something we tell our clients: not communicating IS communicating.
There are many reasons people fail to communicate.
- You don’t yet have what you think you need – the information, or a firm decision to convey.
- You feel like the evidence speaks for itself, and you don’t need to add anything.
- You’re not ready for questions, because you don’t have firm plans. Maybe you feel like so much is going to change in the near future that your plans might be moot.
- You think someone else is better suited to deliver the message. It’s not your strength, or it’s not your place.
Whatever your reason, it’s not good enough. Because people will hear something, even if you’re not speaking. When they have gaps in their understanding, they WILL fill those gaps in some way. All you’re doing, through your silence, is giving up control over what they will think.
So what does this mean for you, if you have a new leader? Say something. Communicate, even if you feel it’s unnecessary.
The HBR interviews revealed what you’re really saying when you stay silent.
- Early impressions are important, but they aren’t based on the information you might think. New CEOs won’t ask their predecessor about you. And even when they get input from valid sources, they don’t place much stock in it. They want to make up their own minds. One big mistake: not enough face time, to help them form the impression. CEOs told HBR of a variety of ways their executives missed opportunities to fill in the blanks, from ill-timed vacations to over-focus on customer relationships. Face time is critical when the new boss is forming impressions.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t be there for you when you need me.”
- One CEO told HBR, “Virtually no one came to see me to ask how they could help.”CEOs are in a naturally hostile environment. They’re in survival mode, trying to quickly figure out who’s with them and who’s against them. CEOs told HBR that they did not equate lack of disagreement with support. In fact, without strong, clear agreement, the CEOs draw their own conclusions: you’re not on the same page. CEOs reported firing executives because of misaligned priorities, even though those executives had never once announced their opposition.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I don’t agree with you and I won’t support you.”
- New CEOs who deliver positive outcomes for their organizations in the first year tend to keep their jobs; CEOs who don’t tend to get fired. So it’s essential that the new CEO delivers on their first-year agenda. They say executives should actively confirm that they understand and support the plans of the new boss. And, beyond simple agreement, it makes sense to clarify what the CEO is doing and what you, specifically, can do to support those outcomes.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t help you succeed.”
- It’s hard to fault an executive for painting a bright picture of their function or division to the new CEO. But resist that temptation; it will backfire. As one CEO said “I don’t have time to sort out trust issues. If you don’t show me the negatives, I suspect that either you don’t know them or that you will try to hide things from me.”
What you’re saying with your silence: “You can’t trust me.”
- CEOs have enough challenges without trying to twist their style to fit their new team. So, of course, they want executives to match their style. You can do that the hard way – many months of observation, trial, and error – or you can do it the easy way. Ask them. One new CEO had a direct-report who others assumed would be fired, but “He…asked how I wanted him to disagree with me. What kind of facts cause me to change my mind — stories from the front line or statistics? Could he disagree in public or only in private? Once he had made his case and failed to convince me, should he try again or just accept that the decision was made? How did I feel about his subordinates or peers knowing he disagreed with something?” His direct and thoughtful conversation literally saved his job and set him up for long-term success with his new boss.
What you’re saying with your silence: “I won’t make this any easier.”
We often tell our clients that saying nothing tells employees, ”We don’t know” or “We don’t care.” Or both. That’s the very last thing you want your new boss to think. Say something.
Training On the UnthinkableEffective learning experiences are realistic and repetitive, preparing well-chosen people to create the new habits they need to perform. We have trouble imagining that training teachers to use guns will meet those criteria.
Why training teachers to actively resist won’t work.
“Houston, we have a problem.” That single line, paraphrased and popularized in the 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13, revealed much more than the harrowing events of a near-fatal NASA mission. It hinted at the power of effective learning.
Without a realistic simulated environment on the ground, drilling astronauts on worst-case scenarios, the entire crew would have been lost. It is powerful proof that good training drives real results.
Talk of arming teachers, to save the lives of their students and themselves, has us thinking about the Apollo 13’s training triumph.
Could teachers be effectively trained to defend against an active shooter?
Emerson develops learning programs our clients use to teach people to follow new processes or systems, up their performance, or deliver excellence for customers. What does that have to do with training astronauts or teachers to save lives? It all comes down to creating new behaviors. We know how to do that.
Let’s examine the training principles we recommend to effect new behaviors, and how those principles would work if we trained teachers to resist a violent intruder.
Match competencies to the role.
This is something our clients do outside of training. Every role has a competency profile – the skills and capabilities a person needs to be right for the job.
This is a common-sense but critical element of great performance. Yes, training helps people perform, but there are certain gaps that are hard to bridge with training. That’s why recruiters and managers take such pains to pair people and positions.
Needless to say, we hire teachers for their excellence in instructing our kids. They need teaching certificates, along with intelligence, communication skills, perception, compassion… If we were hiring people to neutralize violent intruders, the list would be different. So, before we even approach training, we have a potential performance problem.
Make it realistic.
The closer training is to reality, the better. Why? In order for people to perform, they need to transfer what they learned in training to on-the-job performance. The further the learning environment is from the performance environment, the less likely it is that the learner will transfer those new behaviors to real life.
Part of it is the setting. “State-dependent learning” says people perform better in the physical environment in which they learned to perform. That includes all the sights, sounds, smells, tools, and people. So, ideally, the learner would receive training in his or her performance environment—the real workspace.
Part of it is the scenario. We try to present learners with exactly the inputs and stimuli they will face on the job, and give them exactly the resources they will have at hand to solve the problem.
Could we apply that to teacher response training? They could certainly train in their own school buildings. That would be critical, as—aside from state-dependent learning—each building is physically different; those differences would require a custom response. But what about the scenario? That’s more of a problem.
It’s hard to anticipate exactly what would happen when someone is literally trying to take people by surprise.
Which brings us to our next principle…
Train on the exceptional.
We build training to include both the default and likely exceptions. Let’s say we’re designing training for department store employees. We might include scenarios on accepting purchase returns. In the common situation, it’s relatively simple: (1) Scan receipt. (2) Enter return reason code when prompted. (3) Press the Return button. Great. But then we ask, “What if…?” What if the customer doesn’t have a receipt? What if it’s past the time window to accept the return? What if this makes the customer mad? What if there’s a technical issue like an error message or a system outage? We must train employees on each of these scenarios.
But what if the default situation is already chaotic? If an active shooter going from classroom to classroom trying doors is your baseline, what other scenarios would we train? Imagine teachers learning to respond to one grave possibility after another.
Create unconscious habit.
We tell our clients that knowing what to do is not enough, especially in high-pressure situations. New behaviors must convert to habits, through repetitive practice cycles made up of a trigger, the right action, and some kind of reinforcement. Consider this comment on the police response to the Uvalde school shooting:
In the past two years, the Uvalde school district has hosted at least two active shooter trainings, according to reporting by The Times. One of them was two months ago. …Law enforcement officers need to be mentally prepared before they arrive on the scene, so they can respond immediately.
Repetitive training builds practice and confidence. Big gatherings for training every few years are more expensive and less effective for muscle memory. Instead, departments should consider more virtual tabletop exercises they can run through in an afternoon. Have officers walk through schools and talk with one another about how they would respond. Require officers to check all their gear before they begin a shift.
Learning experts know that, even if you drill during training, you can’t let new behaviors go stale and expect performance. We recommend our clients train only what is needed or will be used immediately on the job, providing natural repetition. Then we extend the learning experience through check-ins, on-the-job challenges, or learning networks, giving learners as many opportunities as possible to apply new skills after training.
So how would that work, if we were training teachers to forcibly resist?
They can’t actually use those new skills on the job until the unthinkable happens. Are we prepared to invest the time, effort, and emotional energy to effectively drill teachers, over and over, on their worst nightmare? Because that’s what it would take to create the right behaviors to make any difference.
Effective learning experiences are realistic and repetitive, preparing well-chosen people to create the new habits they need to perform. We have trouble imagining that training teachers to use guns will meet those criteria.
Change Under PressureStudies show individuals change their behavior when the perceived cons of changing are less than perceived cons of staying the same.
Behavior science can overcome resistance.
By Paul Mastrangelo, Emerson ReadyStaff
May you live in interesting times. Although the phrase is NOT really a Chinese curse, it remains an appropriate quip for the decade so far. Organizations faced with constant external pressures need to enlist employees to change, so the organization survives and thrives.
Change models show us that individuals change their behavior when the perceived cons of changing are less than perceived cons of staying the same. The Gleicher Formula (D x V x F > R), says that Dissatisfaction with the status quo, Vision of an alternative, and First steps toward that end will overcome Resistance to change.
Similarly, Edgar Schein explains change as spurred by the imbalance between Learning Anxiety and Survival Anxiety – the fear and personal cost of learning something new versus the fear and personal costs of staying the same. Schein, however, observed that tipping the scales by increasing fear of staying the same is NOT effective.
Instead, the key to influencing individuals is to decrease the fear of the new.
Note how many recent behaviors bear this out.
- 25% of the US population resist getting vaccinated for COVID 19. Why? They are being told that remaining unvaccinated is a threat to survival, but they rationalize that the vast majority of COVID cases are like a bad case of the flu, which is far less scary than a brand-new vaccine. The anxiety around the new vaccine is too high, so getting vaccinated is a hard change to make.
- Currently, one out of six posted jobs is remote, compared to one out of 67 jobs in 2020. Why? Before 2020 remote work options were uncommon because most leaders feared reduced performance, less innovation, and weakened culture. Once the pandemic forced the issue, remote work became the status quo, which now feels safe. Leaders’ anxiety diminished greatly (and reducing overhead costs certainly sweetened the pot). Allowing remote work as the default has become an easier change to make.
- Recent data show that people now value flexibility as much as a 10% pay raise. Why? Employees feared that removing themselves from the office, out of sight from their boss, would be detrimental to promotions, raises, and developmental opportunities. After nearly two years of partial or full remote staffing, it’s the new normal. The fear is gone, along with hours of commute time. Demanding flexibility is now an easier change to make.
- There is a sudden labor shortage, largely due to older employees retiring early. Why? The idea of spending more time at home and with family was always counter-balanced by the uncertainty of life without work. But the pandemic gave seniors a glimpse of that lifestyle. It now feels safe, especially compared to the potentially covid-ridden workplace. So of course early retirement is an easier change to make.
Once you recognize that behavioral change results from reducing the fear and cost of trying something new, you might reconsider using statements like “We must change if we’re going to survive” or “Change is inevitable.” Those messages attempt to increase fear of staying the same, but that’s the wrong pressure point.
The right pressure point is to make the change feel safe. Through this lens, overcoming resistance to organizational change is a challenge we can meet.
Your Change Program Can Bring Home the GoldWe don’t think an organizational change project can touch the level of enjoyment we get from a vacation or watching the Olympics. But could we at least try?
Why do we love the Olympics?
Have you ever thought about it? What if we told you we could break it down and help you make your next change project feel a little bit more fun?
It all starts with behavioral research. In “The Best Vacation Ever,” Drake Bennett looks at the psychology behind the definitive fun activity – a vacation – to explain the four factors that make something enjoyable.
- Anticipation: We enjoy looking forward to an experience more than actually experiencing it.
- Intensity: We remember intense highs, intense lows, and novelty – how our experiences “Peak” and “End.”
- Adaptation: We quickly acclimate to our current experience. If our positive experience is interrupted by reality, we have heightened enjoyment when we return.
- Deadlines: We tend to procrastinate on activities, even fun ones, if they have extended timeframes. We have more fun if it’s on a schedule.
Per Bennett, “….how long we take off probably counts for less than we think, and in the aggregate, taking more short trips leaves us happier than taking a few long ones. We’re often happier planning a trip than actually taking it. And interrupting a vacation – far from being a nuisance – can make us enjoy it more. How a trip ends matters more than how it begins, who you’re with matters as much as where you go, and if you want to remember a vacation vividly, do something during it that you’ve never done before. And though it may feel unnecessary, it’s important to force yourself to actually take the time off in the first place – people, it turns out, are as prone to procrastinate when it comes to pleasurable things like vacations as unpleasant ones like paperwork and visits to the dentist.”
It turns out that the Olympics are a great proof of these principles.
- Anticipation? How long does NBC, the US home of the games, spend hyping the Olympics? We get months and months of previews on NBC’s outlets, and disseminated across social media. By the opening ceremonies, we know what new sports will be included, who’s expected to medal, and what the US team uniforms look like.
- Intensity? “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” (Are we dating ourselves?) The games are jam-packed with highs and lows, and the coverage really exploits them. Simone Biles is out, and we all feel it. Lydia Jacoby’s gold has her entire Alaska town jumping up and down. We’re on a rollercoaster for weeks.
- Adaptation? Yes, the Olympics are interrupted by reality, especially for those of us watching from home. We end each normal day living vicariously through the glories and disappointments of the athletes.
- Deadlines? They come with the schedule. If Americans want to watch Tokyo events live, and remain unspoiled, they’d better get up in the wee hours of the morning.
Now, we don’t think an organizational change project can touch the level of enjoyment we get from a vacation or watching the Olympics. But could we at least try?
Could we nudge it in the direction of fun?
What if, as we design a change program, we incorporate these principles? Ask yourself these questions:
- How have we heightened anticipation for this program? What will be enjoyable or satisfying about it? How can we help people look forward to the good parts?
- Can we celebrate milestones and highlight better-than-expected performance? How can we end with a bang?
- Is the program broken into sprints? Can we build in periods of focus, hard work, and celebration, alternating with periods of business as usual?
- Do we incorporate tight timelines for action? Does everyone see the big-picture schedule and understand the urgency and the benefits of reaching the end?
It might feel like a stretch to try to create fun in the midst of an organizational change project. But just look at the impossible feats on your TV right now. You can do it!
Four Ways to Get the Traction Your Org Change NeedsYou need action, but employees aren’t listening. Here’s how to cut through the noise and get the results you need.
You are up to your eyeballs in change. The US pandemic is waning, but markets are still recovering, workforces are shifting, and the imperative of new technology hasn’t let up.
But you’re on top of it. You are clear on the initiatives your organization needs. Now you’re trying to manage a suite of overlapping rollouts, so you need a strong communication plan to get employees on board.
Your senior execs have delivered PowerPoint presentations, participated in talking head videos and sent sponsorship emails. You have a network of people to answer questions and send you feedback. You’ve branded the projects, distributed swag, launched apps…
But you’re not getting the traction you hoped for. People seem unaware of the key points, or just plain unaware. Execs are frustrated; they say, “We told them. Why aren’t they getting it?” Employees are not using the new tools and approaches you’re trying to deploy. Why not?
According to the Radicati Group, 281 billion emails are sent worldwide daily. With 3.8 billion users, that’s 74 emails per person. Every day. Bain Consultants estimated in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article that 15% of company time is spent in meetings. Verizon commissioned a study that found people attend over 60 meetings per month, accounting for 37% of their time. The WSJ found that we are distracted every 3 minutes.
So what’s going on?
Your employees are being assaulted by information and demands on their time.
You are not in the communication business, you are in the ATTENTION business. You have to help people cut through the noise and focus on what’s important. To do that, you have to rise above the fray. Everything you deploy should grab attention. Your messages must be obviously different, relevant and worthy of people’s limited time.
Here’s how to focus attention:
1. Keep it simple.
Distill your point to its essence. It’s your three-word theme for the year, the mantra that gets you to the project end, the political platform statement, or the four words that capture the problem, solution, approach and results.
A childcare company was implementing new technology. Here’s how they distilled it to four words. “Our caregivers are overwhelmed. The solution? Make sure they are connected. They deserve a thoughtful approach to this implementation. What do we want in the end? Energized people.” These words were easy to remember without relying on PowerPoint. Anyone from any department could provide examples for those words, and they did. Simplicity creates clarity.
2. Use visuals.
Researchers have found that people can remember 2,000 pictures with 90% accuracy, likely because visuals engage more of the brain. It doesn’t matter whether a person is trying to memorize the images or is casually exposed to them. There’s an extra, unconscious leap needed to translate an image to a word, which is why words are harder to remember. Line drawings are particularly easy to recall, perhaps because they are more visually complex. Crude hand drawings are more memorable than stock images. Dan Roam has a great book, Draw to Win, which can help you overcome your self-consciousness and create your own powerful visuals.
When he ran Farmhouse Rice Company, Peter Molloy created a “visual vision” to convey company direction. It was so effective, he used the same technique again when he became CEO of La Terra Fina.
3. Use novelty or contrast.
Subconsciously, we are constantly looking for threat. That’s why anything unusual piques our interest. When you create disruption — whether in stories, process, color, structure, volume – makes people notice.
Years ago, an IT department in a Chicago hospital implemented a standard approach to requesting support and custom reports. People were accustomed to paging their favorite IT person to fulfill the request. (Yes, it was that long ago!) When they moved to the new process, they changed all IT pager numbers. A small disruption signaled a new way of working. Look for variety and surprising ways to make your point.
4. Use environmental cues.
Look for elements in the workplace itself that can serve your purpose, like the physical space, processes, screens, codes, reporting relationships, and job titles. The real world encodes the conceptual. And often what people encounter every day contradicts what the company is telling them.
Chevron did it right. Years ago, they decided to create a culture of safety. That meant asking introverted engineers to be a little confrontational if they saw something unsafe. All the communication in the world wouldn’t address that behavior. So they made a point of starting every meeting with a “Safety Moment,” where each person had to identify one thing they saw that day that was unsafe. Over time, they layered it with other activities, such as assessing each person’s work station to ensure it was ergonomic, or confronting one another for driving while talking on their cell phone. These environmental cues reinforced behavior in ways no email campaign could.
Traditional communication plans fail because they don’t use the best thinking on human behavior. Don’t churn out information and hope it sticks. Focus attention on the behaviors you want and you’ll achieve your business outcomes.
Refreshing Leadership Meetings in 2021Meetings have such a bad reputation, especially among busy executives. But if you do it right, they’ll accept your next invite with a smile.
Facilitate the hell out of your next executive session
Leave them wanting more. Is that even possible with a meeting? People want fewer meetings, right? Or maybe you’re doing it wrong.
2021 is the perfect opportunity for a reset. Next time you facilitate an executive meeting, make it a satisfying experience: effective, focused, respectful, and even fun.
- Do your research. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like the participants realizing you don’t know enough to run the meeting. Don’t make them stop and educate you. Make sure you’re rock-solid on the facts, figures, and history you need.
That starts with the Why. After you think you’re clear on the goals of the session, ask the participants. Send each one a personal invitation and ask them to answer one question:
“Why do you think we need this meeting?”
This will surface misunderstandings so you can resolve them before everyone shows up. It also gives each attendee some buy in – it’s a trick of psychology; you’re getting them on the record saying it’s important.
- Focus. We all know “Begin with the end in mind,” and that’s right. Start the session by confirming the goal. Here are a few more tips:
Limit attendees. In The Surprising Science of Meetings, Steven Rogelberg says the ideal size is seven participants. AND that decision-making effectiveness decreases 10% with each additional attendee! Balance your need to have all the right decision-makers in the room with the value of your outcomes.
Limit devices. I once sat in an exec meeting next to a new team member who kept his laptop open. I was the only one who could see that he wasn’t taking notes; he was reading the news, checking stock performance, and watching hockey highlights on mute. (I swear.) He didn’t last long in the company. Either the meeting is important or it’s not. If it’s not, then cancel it. If it is, then silence phones and close the laptops. If someone gets a call and has to take it, stop the meeting for a break. This has the double-whammy of respecting the call-taker (because you can’t continue without her) and pressuring her to get off the phone fast.
Use a “parking lot.” When someone goes off topic, stop, reset, and document that point on a flipchart page, whiteboard, or notes window. Promise not to lose that thread and follow up after the meeting.
- Limit session time. “I don’t need time. I need a deadline.” ~ Edward Kennedy Ellington. Duke was right— time limits work. Rogelberg and others recommend scheduling hour-long meetings for 50 minutes. If you truly need more time, break it into 50-minute sessions with specific milestone goals for each. And chunking up your process lets you use another technique…
- Delay decisions. Why do we say “I want to sleep on it?” Because it works. Time for reflection and synthesis yields better ideas. We’ve all sent that follow-up email saying, “Hey, I just had another idea” or “We didn’t have time to cover this, but…”
So design that into your session. Up front, explain that you will make no firm decisions at the end of any one meeting. Everyone will go away, let their “back burner” brilliance work, and come back together to confirm. This works well if you have broken your process into multiple short sessions. Assign a milestone goal for Session One, then use the first ten minutes of Session Two to play back tentative decisions, bring in new info, and make a final call.
- One up, one down. This concept comes from the military, but I know it as a best practice in my kids’ Montessori preschool. Each class had two teachers managing 25 kids working independently or in small groups. Rather than the goat rodeo you might expect, the classroom worked beautifully. “One up, one down” meant that when one teacher was focused on teaching students (in a chair or on the floor) the other should be standing, with a view of the whole group.
In an exec session, there should be at least one person focused on documenting, fixing, or providing support; the other should have eyes on the room, to manage the discussion and progress.
- Document, document, document. Executives have zero time for your shenanigans. They don’t want to repeat themselves, argue about what was said last time, or struggle to understand what’s going on. So make sure you collect and replay all essential information.
Record faithfully. If it’s ok with participants, record the audio and/or video of your meeting. That’s the only fool-proof way to make sure you know what happened. If you can’t do that, take copious notes. And commit to being the historian, calling up meeting minutes, inputs, and outputs in real time when asked. Use these to produce executive summaries at milestones and at the end of the process.
Dampen the politics. Sometimes it matters who’s talking. Junior participants might not hold the floor as long, or might get a quick rebuttal. But when you record and play back what happened, you can give all good content equal weight, removing any hierarchical barriers to a good idea.
- All brains matter. People process and retain information differently, so provide as many channels as you can. We default to bullet points and flow charts, with a voice-over from the facilitator. But that’s not the only way. Consider these:
Silent reading. Give the group information to read as an input to your discussion. Some people think better when eyes aren’t on them and people aren’t speaking.
Listening. The growth of podcasts and video books has revealed a segment of people who love to learn with their ears, minus other distractions. Use audio content in the session or as pre-work.
Video. Moving pictures really work for some people, especially with retention. Video has it all: sound, images, and verbal content.
Graphic documentation. This is a powerful way to capture ideas and decisions. Use a graphic artist to illustrate content in real time; you’ll end up with a graphic that conveys more than a list of bullet points ever could. Graphic documentation is a great touchstone to use after the meeting—post your graphic in a space where people can revisit it and use it to communicate to a wider audience.
- Be tenacious. Even the best outputs can evaporate after you all leave the room. People ignore emails, crises emerge, and enthusiasm fades over time. Don’t let go. Set milestones for feedback, new meetings, and other next steps. Get commitment before you leave the room. If necessary, unblock the logjams with one-on-one conversations over time.
- Lighten up. Why so serious? We can accomplish real work and have fun at the same time. We recently asked an exec team to come up with their own theme songs. Each member chose their own song, then they composed a song to represent themselves as a team, real-time. We captured and produced their work of art after the session. It was a good time, but it wasn’t just a good time—it surfaced and confirmed their strengths and cohesion. Think about how to brighten up your session. Use stunning graphics, gamify your process, or use a new environment for the meeting. Fun doesn’t have to get in the way—bake it into the work.
Meetings have such a bad reputation, especially among busy executives. But if you do it right, they’ll accept your next invite with a smile.